Immigration: Trophy or Trap?

In the realm of what’s still possible with a Republican-run House, Democratic-led Senate and president with approval ratings in the mid-40s, immigration rings as something with political benefits for all.

Or pitfalls, depending on who’s assessing it.

It was President Barack Obama who won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote at reelection in 2012, and it was the Senate which last year corralled bipartisan support for legislation offering undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. a path to citizenship. If the Republicans hoped to regain any traction in national elections with the nation’s fastest growing minority bloc, the party’s leaders said after the elections, they’d have to address immigration.

In the meantime, the president’s standing among Hispanics has slipped. The Pew Research Center, which already had found that the president’s favorable rating among Hispanics had slid from 85 percent last January to 58 percent in October, says that now stands at 62 percent in the latest surveys.

And among all voters, dealing with illegal immigration remains a relatively low-ranking priority: A top priority among 41 percent of all surveyed by Pew. It ranked 16th in an array of issues surveyed — the highest priorities being strengthening the nation’s economy (80 percent) and improving the job situation (74 percent). Defending the nation from terrorism scored a close third, at 73 percent.


The annual survey of policy priorities, a poll of 1,504 adults run Jan. 15-19, shows that Democrats lead Republicans in “several key traits and characteristics” — including a willingness to work with leaders of the other party and concern for “the needs of people like me.”

It would still seem the president’s party could do well by cobbling a compromise on immigration between the Senate, with a comprehensive bill the White House supports, and the House, whose leaders do want to take some steps on enforcement, visas for workers and students and some sort of legal status for those undocumented. They just don’t want to be forced to swallow the Senate bill.

Yet some say a trap has been laid for Republicans, and that any significant action on immigration this year could work against them in midterm elections where they face challenges from their farthest-right elements.

Bill Kristol, the Republican commentator and self-styled conscience of conservative ranks, says his party will pay a price for any concession on immigration this year — and there is no need to take any action on it until 2015, when perhaps Republicans will control both chambers of Congress.

He said so again this morning on Joe Scarborough’s show.



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